Algiers is a gem of a city that the traveller, curious and seeking exclusivity, will love discovering. One will feel incredibly special and grateful to appreciate its untouched beauty. Indeed, Algeria’s capital is a rich and confidential destination, delivering its secrets to those keen on knowing and understanding them.
This week, KHAMSA ventures to the wondrous lands of Algiers with a detailed travel guide by Sofia Nehman (@sofia_nehman on Instagram), a French-Algerian brand content expert and Middle Eastern studies researcher. She is the founder of FIBULASTUDIO, an initiative to re-document and promote endangered professions of arts and crafts in Algeria. She is also a devoted Arab culture and heritage advocate who has travelled more than 40 countries.
Nicknamed “Algiers the White” because of its dazzling Light, Algeria’s capital has hypnotized the greatest artists: Delacroix, Renoir, Matisse, Le Corbusier to name a few. Through Sofia’s eyes, we witness the city’s grand mixture of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Barbary pirate, and French colonial heritage. According to her, this city is not a farniente destination of fancy restaurants and shopping malls, but a cultural hub that invites authenticity and exclusivity.
Top must-visit Algiers food spots?
Start your day with a coffee and a portion of Qalb al Louz (Heart of Almonds), a traditional semolina-based Algerian dessert, at Café Terrassa Le Tantonville. Located near the National Algerian Theatre (former Opera House), Le Tantonville opened in 1883 and became the meeting place for Algiers intelligentsia and artists.
Sapori is the spot for a casual couscous by the port.
If you are visiting the Casbah, and fancy some fish, then you should stop at le Repère. The menu is simple and delicious: fresh grilled sardines fries and salads. A bonus is the view on the bay and a décor celebrating the history of the Casbah.
For a captivating dinner experience, head to Dar al Baraka. It is set in a former Palace located in the Casbah (Old Town).
Best places for sundowners/rooftop places?
SEVENTY-FIVE Rooftop Bar of Hotel el Aurassi offers one of the most spectacular views on the Bay of Algiers. This lounge terrace, very popular at the end of the afternoon for friendly and relaxing meetings, is an unmissable address on the Algiers square. There are a wide range of cocktails and delicacies on offer that can be enjoyed within a breathtaking ambience.
Best places for shopping?
Visit concept stores like Medina Mood in Hydra or La Dwira Chic, 97, rue Sfindja in El Biar. Both showcase the best of Algerian craftsmanship. Make sure you take a piece of Algeria’s culture with you.
Seen Art Gallery, Dely Ibrahim
Dar El Kenz, Cheraga
Les Ateliers Sauvages, downtown Algiers
Must-visit cultural spots?
When in Algiers, you must start with the basics. Basics include Downtown Algiers.
- Start your day at the Grande Poste Square (Central Post Office) and appreciate Algiers’ most iconic monument. It is currently undergoing refurbishment, but you can still appreciate the façade of the finest example of neo-Moorish architecture in North Africa. Fact: The success of the colonial project depended on a cultural compromise with the locals. To win them over, French architects re-thought an architecture that would borrow from Islamic art and design: Islamic calligraphy, domes, wooden carved doors.
- Spot the mythical Flower shop “Fleurs d’Alger” – a flower shop where Beloved “#ami Mohamed” brightened up the Grande Poste square until February 26, 2023.
- Walk down onto Laarbi Ben Mhidi street until Emir Abdel Kader Square. Spot the Memorial Giant Statue of the Algerian leader who led a struggle against the French invasion in the mid-19th century. Appreciate the spectacular colonial façades, a mix of Haussmannian and neo-Moorish architecture, a unique blend you only see in Algiers.
- Take Colonel Haouas Street until you see the MAMA (Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art), another stunning gem of Neo-Moorish architecture. Fun fact: the MAMA once housed the Galeries de France, Galeries Lafayette’s counterparts. Not so fun, the Museum has closed for refurbishment but if you ask kindly the security, he might let you in to appreciate the gorgeous interior.
- Head to Port Said square. Right in front of the square, spot the National Theatre formerly known as Algiers Opera House, a Baroque Revival building built from the 1850s. Cross the main road, you are now in the middle of a boulevard lined with stunning Haussmannian buildings. Lift your head, spot the cherubs and baroque décor, sneak into spectacular entrance halls adorned with Art nouveau statues. Hidden gems everywhere you look. This is Algiers!
- Head back to the Central Post office, grab something to eat and take metro line 1 at “Tafourah – Grande Poste” station, direction “el Harrach” (east side of the city).
- Stop at Jardin d’essai. Another gem. But this one is set in a spectacular oasis of greenery, in the heart of Algiers. The Botanical Garden was designed and established in 1832 to serve as both a model farm and a test garden to install and study various imported plant species. Wander in these five hectares of greenery and spot the many sculptures by orientalist artists. Fun fact: Tarzan (1932) was partially filmed there.
- Head to The National Museum of Fine Arts. Also known as the Musée des Beaux-Arts, this top cultural spot is home to 8,000 works, including paintings, drawings, engravings and old prints, sculptures etc. and the largest art gallery in Africa. Among the works on display are paintings by Dutch and French masters Brugghen, Monet, Matisse, Delacroix, Renoir, Gauguin, and Pissaro, to name a few, but also emblematic Algerian artists, like Baya, Yellès and Racim. The museum houses sculptures by Rodin, Bourdelle and Belmondo. It is located on a hill near the Hamma Garden and offers a spectacular view on the Garden and the Mediterranean.
Image courtesy Sofia Nehman
Image courtesy Sofia Nehman
- End the day at the Martyr’s Memorial. To reach Makam al Shahid, take the cable car near the Museum. The 92 meters concrete monument was inaugurated in 1982 on the 20th anniversary of the country’s independence. It is designed in the shape of three palm leaves and shelter the “Eternal flame”, and three statues of Moudjahids – symbols of the million of Algerian martyrs in the War of Liberation. If you want to learn about the Algerian War, check the Museum of the Moudjahidin. Visit the Military Museum dedicated to the military history of Algeria from the Numidian era through the period of colonization to the present day.
Image courtesy Sofia Nehman
Start the day with a visit of the Casbah, west of the Martyrs Square. The ancient city is a UNESCO Heritage site and a steep and narrow maze of white washed old houses, palaces and mosques. It was founded in the 10th century by the Berbers of the Zirid dynasty.
- I like to start this itinerary at the lower Casbah, at the Ketchaoua Mosque. The 17th century mosque was remodelled by in 1794 by Hassan Pasha, when he built his palace next door. On July 5, 1830 a cross was placed on top of the mosque, beginning more than 130 years of French occupation. The building was reconsecrated as a mosque on July 5, 1962, 132 years to the day after it was converted to a church.
- Next to the mosque, spot Dar Hassan Pasha, one of the city’s grandest mansions from the 18th century. After 1830, it became the winter residence of the Governor of Algiers and Emperor Napoleon and Empress Eugénie stayed during their 1860 tour. It is currently undergoing refurbishment.
- The Palais des Rais, also known as Bastion 23. Lower Casbah. An ensemble of three palaces and six houses which construction started in 1576, under the rule of Dey Ramdhan Pasha.
- Dar Mustapha Pacha. A palace built by the future Dey Mustapha Pacha between 1798. It houses the National Museum of Miniatures, Illumination and Calligraphy.
- Dar Aziza. Palace of the Dey of Constantine’s daughter. It houses impressive tile work. I recommend visiting with a tour guide, to avoid getting lost in the narrow and steep maze of streets.
- The Casbah also played a central role during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962). Algerian Resistance organized from within the Casbah walls, against the French, in what would later be known as “The Battle of Algiers”.
- Reach Our Lady of Africa Basilica (1872) located on a 124 meters cliff overlooking the Bay of Algiers. Admire the stunning architecture and spot the inscription on the apse: “Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims”
If you have time, plan a one-day trip to visit the ancient ruins of Tipasa, 70 km west of Algiers. The Turquoise of the Mediterranean and forests of pines serve as a majestic backdrop for the Phoenician, Roman, early Christian, and Byzantine ruins.
On the way, stop at the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania where Numidian Berber King Juba II and Queen Cleopatra Selene II (daughter of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra) were allegedly buried. Fact: the Numidian Kingdom was home to the only Lighthouse in the world, beside Alexandria’s lighthouse.
For lunch, select your fish from the catches of the day at LE DAUPHIN (or any other seafood restaurant), and enjoy fresh seafood by the sea.
Best boutique hotels to stay in?
El Djazair Hotel, known by its former title, the St. George, a historic French-colonial era hotel which guests included Edward VII, Edith Piaf, Dalida, Winston Churchill, Jean Cocteau, to name a few. Also check out Hotel al Aurassi at Alger centre and Msuitehotel in Dar el Beida.
I recommend staying in the center of Algiers, walking or metro distance to all attractions. Check Airbnbs in Didouche Mourad street, Place Audin, Pasteur avenue, and Telemly.
What should you avoid?
Summer is a timing to avoid due to the crowd, the temperatures, and the high level of humidity. I love Algiers during spring and fall.
Visiting Algiers involves lots of walking so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. I’d also suggest wearing relatively modest clothes.
Any tips and tricks to tackle the city?
Taxis are a fast and cheap way to get around in Algiers, though most sites are reachable by walk or metro.